How Much Protein Do You Need?

There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t talk about protein requirements with a client and I’m not sure that I’ve gone in to much detail about it on the site before.

Before we get into the quantity, let’s cover a few areas of importance for those who may need the refresher:

-Most people consume some combination of three primary macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Alcohol counts as a macronutrient as well but I won’t cover anything about alcohol in this post.

-Protein assists with muscle recovery and repair (which is important if you’re doing any manner of strength/resistance training). It is arguably the most satiating macronutrient to consume which is why it helps to keep the number higher when you’re in a fat loss phase. Protein intake also helps with immune support and contributes to healthy hair and skin.

-Unless you have a diagnosed concern with your kidneys, a high(er) protein diet should not have any negative side effects.

-By and large, even with the information provided below, protein doesn’t need to be more than 30-40% of your daily intake.

So, let’s get into the numbers. The RDA recommended amount is 0.8/g per kg of bodyweight. That means that a 200lb (91kg) person only needs 73g of protein per day. However, this number is widely disputed, especially in the fitness community because the RDA amount basically makes sure that you’re not deficient in the nutrient NOT that it’s been maximized for performance, strength or fat loss.

What I find, in practice, is somewhere closer to 1.2-1.6g per kg of bodyweight. Taking our same 200 lb individual, that’s approximately 109-146g of protein per day.

Of note, the numbers don’t need to be perfect. If you find that you’re really struggling to hit the lower number but you’re getting somewhere to the tune of 100g per day, that’s perfectly fine. You don’t need to agonize over every solitary gram.

If I had to work off of a given trend, most women who come to see me for fat loss average 50-60g of protein per day. I do what I can to get most of my female clients closer to 100g right out of the gate.

What many women find is that, while it can be a challenge to push the protein up initially, once they get in the groove with it, it’s less of an issue.

On the flipside of the numbers, there’s nothing wrong with overshooting the upper end either. Some people (myself included) feel better with a high(er) protein intake.

If you’re in the elderly population, bear in mind that your body may not metabolize protein as efficiently as when you were younger so in addition to keeping your protein intake high enough, you may also need to pick one meal each day with a significantly higher serving of protein by comparison. For example, if you were shooting for 100g of protein per day, rather than aiming for 4 servings of 25 grams, try 2 servings of 25 grams and 1 serving of 50 grams.

So what about the sources? There are many options available that can provide protein to the body, the biggest obstacles being: A) what do you enjoy B) what is the best bang for the buck?

Generally, you want to aim for leaner sources of protein where possible and that may include skinless chicken, skinless turkey, certain cuts of beef, most seafood, yogurt, and certain protein shakes/powders (not a comprehensive list).

Fattier sources of protein could include many cuts of beef, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, cheese, salmon, nuts, chicken/turkey with the skin on and prime rib (also not a comprehensive list).

You can find protein in many grains, legumes, vegetables and soy. However, with plant based options, you’re not just getting the protein itself but some carbs and fat as well. Vegetarians and vegans tend to struggle a bit more with getting the higher amounts of protein and still keeping the sources lean which is where protein powders/shakes can be helpful. Current research as shown that as long as protein/calorie intake is matched, plant-based protein can be just as effective as animal-based protein for strength and fat loss.

For those who have gotten into the world of macro tracking for fat loss, allow me to simplify the process for you. Make sure your calories are in line with your goals, set a protein range, and then let carbs and fats fall where they need to. You don’t need to lose your mind over every gram of every macronutrient to be successful.

One other point of consideration is how each source may affect your hunger. Protein shakes/powders, while convenient and practical, may not be very satisfying when it comes to improving feelings of satiety. Where possible, aim for whole food sources which actually require you to chew your calories as opposed to just drinking them, and this should help.

Feeling confused and don’t know where to start? Drop me a line and let’s see if we can get your food plan heading the right direction.

(Photo courtesy of Sam Moghadam Khamseh)